Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.
WHALERS AND SCRIMSHAWERS
By the middle of the nineteenth century, North American ports such as Bedford were among the richest cities in America. Their wealth was derived from a single source, whale oil, the fossil fuel of the early Industrial Revolution, providing light and lubrication to the burgeoning economy of young America. The New Bedford whaling fleet was the most numerous, adventurous, and far-ranging in the world, setting off on voyages that often lasted for three or four years and extended as far as the Antarctic and Siberia.
When the whalemen were not engaged in hunting whales or routine maintenance, some of their time was spent carving materials harvested from the whales themselves: the teeth and bones of sperm whales, baleen from right and bowhead whales, and walrus tusks acquired by barter from Native people in the Arctic. The resulting practical and decorative objects, often intricately carved and carefully crafted, would provide mementos and treasured souvenirs for loved ones back home. The range of the work is extraordinary not simply the decorated sperm whale teeth that the word scrimshaw ordinarily brings to mind, but also crimpers and canes, umbrellas and swifts. Anything that could be made of ivory and bone was considered fair game.
It is the remarkable diversity and intricate ingenuity of shipboard scrimshaw that drew the comments of contemporaneous observers. Reverend Henry Cheever remarked that "skimshander" is a term for "the ways in which whalemen busy themselves when making passages, and in the intervals of taking whales, in working up sperm whales jaws and teeth and right whale bone into boxes, swifts, reels, canes, whips, folders, stamps, and all sorts of things, according to their ingenuity" (The Whale and His Captors, 1850). Herman Melville describes the genre as "lively sketches of whales and whaling-scenes, graven by the fishermen themselves on Sperm Whale-teeth, or ladies busks wrought out of the Right Whale-bone, and other like skrimshander articles, as the whalemen call the numerous little ingenious contrivances they elaborately carved out of the rough material in the hours of ocean leisure" (Moby Dick, 1851)